Worker-Student Action Committees|
France May '68
by Roger Gregoire & Fredy Perlman
Worker-Student Action Committees was first published by its authors in Kalamazoo (Michigan) in the spring of 1969 and then reprinted by Black & Red (Detroit) in 1970. (Printed at the Detroit Print Co-op which Perlman co-founded).
The articles making up Part I were all written in Paris between May and July 1968 except for the last which was completed in the US. Some of the articles were published at the time in different journals - details are given in the notes for those articles. In the pamphlet no previous publication details are given for the first article The Second French Revolution but according to the bibliography in 'Having Much Being Little' an article with that title was published in the Kalamazoo paper the Western Herald (June 14, 1968).
The 1970 Black & Red edition was copiously illustrated with cartoons and graphics created in France during May '68. This on-line version is considerably the poorer for not including them.
From Having Much, Being Little by Lorraine Perlman,
Black & Red (Detroit), 1989 :
[ ... Fredy Perlman lectured in Italy for a few weeks in the spring of 1968 ... ]
"When the course in Turin ended, Fredy took a train to Paris and found himself caught up in the tumultuous events of May 1968. His experiences during these intense, joyous weeks deeply affected his views and remained a constant reference point whenever he considered possibilities for social change. (...)
Fredy Perlman & Roger Gregoire were subsequently to fall out with one another :
The act of rebellion itself was exhilarating. The massive street actions in which thousands confronted the forces of the status quo gave rise to hopes that the old world was about to be overturned. Within days, the prestige of political parties, representatives and experts, melted. Many buildings were occupied, and the State's authority was effectively excluded from these liberated areas. People organized committees to carry out necessary tasks. There was a feverish exchange of views, proposals for collective activity. Discussions went on around the clock -- some in an amphitheater where there was a microphone, but mostly between individuals who were discovering the joys that the mass media had deprived them of. There was a widespread conviction that one's daily activity was about to be transformed and that everyone would participate in choosing and bringing about new social arrangements.
Fredy took part in a loosely-organized group of intellectuals, students and young workers who held discussions at the Censier classroom complex and who also tried to communicate their aspirations to auto workers who lived and worked in the Paris suburbs. The Communist Party labor union, the CGT, did not welcome the enthusiastic agitators who came to initiate dialogue with the striking workers for whom it claimed to speak. Union officials feared that they could lose control over "their" strike if the workers insisted on changing the demands from the usual ones concerned with wages to ones which the union could not easily co-opt. Therefore, they kept the factory gates locked and insisted on mediating all contacts with the workers who were occupying the factory. The union bureaucrats finally agreed to transmit an appeal by the "outsiders" to the workers, and one union functionary, using a microphone, gave a distorted account of who the militants were and why they had come to this factory. Since many of the assembled workers were non-French, the outside agitators insisted that the appeal should be presented in Spanish and Serbo-Croatian as well. The union officials grudgingly agreed, and gave the microphone to Fredy who was delighted to convey the actual appeal.
On another occasion, when a group of Censier activists went to talk to workers at a suburban factory, a number of them were arrested for trespassing. They had climbed over the factory fence, attempting to speak to the workers directly. At the arraignment Fredy explained to the judge that he was an American professor and that he had climbed the fence in order to carry out research about French labor unions. The judge was undoubtedly skeptical, but charges against Fredy were dropped.
Many of the mass demonstrations in Paris ended with the construction of barricades and confrontations with the police. Tear gas was frequently used and demonstrators were chased and beaten by aggressive riot squad police. Though he was never beaten, Fredy fell ill after one demonstration and spent two days in bed, unconscious most of the time.
During these action-filled weeks, there was little time for reading, but Fredy learned about ideas and histories which influenced him in the decade which followed: the texts of the Situationist International, anarchism and the Spanish Revolution, the council communists.
In July 1968, as law and order were being re-imposed on French society, Fredy returned to the United States (...)
Militants from Europe also visited us in Kalamazoo. One of them, Roger Gregoire, stayed with us for several months, working with Fredy on an account and evaluation of experiences the two had shared in May and June 1968 while members of the Citroen Worker-Student Action Committee. The resulting 96-page history and analysis was printed in the spring of 1969. Roger also participated in and observed local actions; and he furnished printing skills for some numbers of the Black & Red periodical which had been launched in September 1968.
Printing equipment was not available to us in Kalamazoo, but we did find a printer willing to make negatives of the typewritten copy which had been prepared on a portable Hermes machine and laid out using a makeshift light-box. When we had everything ready to print, we went to Ann Arbor to use the facilities of the Radical Education Project (REP), an SDS printing collective.
After they had showed us how to use the equipment, the REP staff treated us as equals and gave us free access to the space. We paid them for the materials we used, helped them with collating or with other menial tasks and left things clean when finished. REP's openness greatly impressed Fredy, all the more since it was clear to everyone that the texts we were printing did not at all conform to the political perspective of the Ann Arbor Collective. (...)
Having Much, Being Little pp. 46-50
In 1969 Roger Gregoire and Linda Lanphear had gone to Paris intending to continue collaborating on Black & Red projects from there, but they were soon concentrating their attention on the Situationist International (SI), exposing the ideological differences between French leftists and the SI, an organization they were eager to join. Some of Black & Red's earlier activity in Kalamazoo did not conform to the exacting Situationist principles, and certain ideological guardians of the SI viewed askance the openness of the current printing project in Detroit. According to the ideologues, the most essential political task was to clarify differences between Situationist theory and the perspectives of other leftists. Past association with non Situationist activists would have to be repudiated before Linda and Roger could be considered worthy of admission to the SI's inner circle. If past errors were acknowledged and if the confessions conformed to the SI's requirements, the gatekeepers held out hope that Roger and Linda could become participants in the "international revolutionary movement," namely, become members of the SI.
Roger's and Linda's repudiation of past errors took the form of long letters addressed to Fredy but submitted to SI officials as proof of their current convictions. In the letters they reproached Fredy for associating with people in Kalamazoo who lacked even the slightest knowledge of the Situationist critique; the letters pointed out that by printing Radical America in Detroit he was continuing his incorrect practice. They urged him to recognize the flaws of Kalamazoo associates, to break off relations with Radical America as well as with all Detroiters who had conventional leftist views and to make the break public by composing, printing and distributing an open letter in which his repudiation would be unambiguously stated.
Fredy was deeply hurt by the letters and disappointed in his friends. He was hurt because the Kalamazoo collaboration had been so congenial; Fredy considered the printing projects and the university interventions to have been exemplary acts. The letters distorted what Fredy considered the reality of their shared activity. He was disappointed in his friends' willingness to humiliate themselves; it was their past they were denouncing as well as his. He had expected them to carry out autonomous projects in Paris, similar to ones they had creatively defined in Kalamazoo. Their letters made him question if the past activity of these individuals had really been so admirable if they could now be accepting purges and advocating ideological purity.
Outrage was another of Fredy's responses to the letters and the one that permeated his reply which began:
In a later paragraph Fredy turns one of their complaints against him into an attack on the S.I. :
Your recent letters would have meant much more if a carbon of one and the original of the other had not been sent to a functionary of the Situationist International as part of an application for membership. The logic of your arguments would be impressive if it had not been designed to demonstrate your orthodoxy in Situationist doctrine. The sincerity of your "rupture with Fredy Perlman and Black and Red" would be refreshing if it had not been calculated to please a Priest of a Church which demands dehumanizing confessions as a condition for adherence. You're a toady.
The odor is made more unpleasant by the fact that you chose to approach the Situationist International precisely in its period of great purges (Khayati, Chasse, Elwell, Vaneigem, Etc.). Some people joined the Communist Party precisely at the time of Stalin's great purges.
[I]n your letters you refer to my avoidance of the problem of Organization. You're wrong. I avoid being sucked into organizations of professional specialists in "revolution"; apparently you desire to be sucked in. We disagreed about this in Kalamazoo as well, but with this difference: you did not at that time demand unanimity as a basis for working together. To avoid being sucked into such organizations is not the same as to avoid the problem of being sucked in. Unfortunately, seen through the 3-D glasses you're wearing today I'm again missing the point. I'm talking about all other bureaucratic organizations, not about the Situationist International. Its bureaucrats aren't bureaucrats. Its purges aren't purges. Its ideology is not ideology: it is practice; whose practice? the anti-bureaucratic practice of the proletarians; this is the practice that justifies the intimidations, insults, confessions, purges which are necessary to keep the Coherence coherent. This Organization is unique: unlike all the Stalinist Parties, unlike the Second, Third and Fourth Internationals, the Situationist International is itself the world revolutionary movement, so that one does not apply to Verlaan for membership but for "an autonomous positive existence within the international revolutionary movement" (your letter to Verlaan).
The break with Linda and Roger made Fredy even more skeptical that a shared ideological perspective was in itself an adequate basis for undertaking common projects, and it made him decidedly unreceptive to alignments with adherents of Situationism. (...)
Having Much Being Little pp 73-75